I have noticed throughout my internship that women coming from different cultures are more disadvantaged then their male counterparts when it comes to the refugee resettlement process. A lot of the time a women will not be able to speak English and her husband will act as a translator, but the level and thoroughness of the translation varies and many time these women are left without necessary information. One of my favorite experiences has been working with a Women’s Empowerment class that teaches women job skills and provides a setting for them to socialize and build a sense of community. The women’s class helps to close this gender inequality and helps women from traditional societies to become empowered.
One of the exercises the class does involves going around town and approaching businesses to ask if they are hiring. While this may seem elementary, many women are used to getting jobs through personal connections or not being able to get a job at all. As I was escorting the women around a shopping center everyone was understandably nervous and uneasy. Finally, I persuaded two of the women to go into a restaurant and ask to speak with the hiring manager. They came out with a business card and a smile on their face. After that I couldn’t keep track of who was going where, everyone was eager to go into shops and ask for applications. It was the first time that I had witnessed a complete change of attitude in the women and had seen them brighten up to such an extent. From then on whenever one of us spotted a “now hiring” sign everyone got giddy and angled to be the one to go in and ask for an application.
It was great to witness how one simple exercise empowered these women to take control of their own job search. For many of the women who had come from Afghanistan or Iran they had never felt like starting a career or getting a job was an option. Having the option to work or not to work is one that allows you to feel free and in charge of the direction of your life. However, like many other experiences I have had at my internship this lesson was bitter sweet. One of the women had been a nurse in Haiti and another was in charge of marketing at an international organization. Knowing that they could not continue their professional careers without starting new in the U.S. was a bit hard to swallow. Still, it was nice to be able to show them a practical part of the job search process even though some of them were way overqualified. The lesson also proved that while refugees do face many barriers to employment (language, cultural norms, gender), they continue to be resilient, determined, and hopeful.